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Payoffs sleaze prompts proposal for ethics law

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN – Dail and Seanad candidates will have to produce tax certification to prove their affairs are up to date under new ethic legislation that is expected to be passed by the Oireachtas by the end of the year.

A new Standards in Public Office law will set up a permanent ethics “watchdog” commission and tighten up sanctions on politicians who are required to make annual declarations of interests.

The legislation follows fresh controversy about the newly revealed payment of a further _30,000 to former Minister for Foreign Affairs Ray Burke during 1989.

The payment, from a subsidiary of the Fitzwilton group, will now be investigated by the Flood Tribunal, which is already probing a previously disclosed _30,000 payment Burke received from a property development company.

The sleaze allegations surrounding the payments took a new turn when former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds said he advised his successor, Bertie Ahern, to look at a multi-million-pound passports-for-sale file before appointing Burke.

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The file concerned the granting of 11 passports to wealthy Saudis and Pakistanis for a _20 million investment under the passports-for-sale scheme. Last month, the government announced it was scrapping the controversial scheme.

Speaking from London, where he is appealing the one-penny damages awarded in his libel action with the Sunday Times, Reynolds said he had not read the file himself but former Justice Minister Maire Geoghegan Quinn had brought her “serious concern” to him.

“Maire Geoghegan Quinn came to me with that file and I told her to acquaint Bertie Ahern of it and I acquainted him of it too and told him he would get the details from her,” Reynolds said.

“I suggested to him [Ahern] that he should be aware of matters brought to me by Maire Geoghegan Quinn before he makes any choices [of his cabinet] and it was a matter for him what choices he made after that.”

Asked if the disclosures about the payments to Burke would damage Fianna Fail, he said: “Any revelations about money to politicians for any issues will damage not only alone Fianna Fail but I believe politics generally”.

Burke has strongly denied any wrongdoing in connection with political donations he received or his processing of the Mahfouz passports.

Burke was justice minister in the cabinet of former Taoiseach Charles Haughey when the passports were granted.

The passports row is expected to be probed by another tribunal, under High Court judge Michael Moriarty, investigating possible further payments to Haughey. That means Burke will be an important witness in the two parallel inquiries into corruption allegations.

A Department of Justice investigation into the granting of the passports to Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz, eight other Saudis and three Pakistanis, reveals that the papers were signed off by Burke in his home on a Saturday night. The passports are reported to have been handed over personally by Haughey.

The investigation found there were “errors and discrepancies” in the procedures and a significant part of the _20 million investment involved has not been traced.

The passports-for-sale scheme granted citizenship to wealthy foreigners – usually at the rate of about _1 million per passport with the cash invested in job-creating industry.

The scheme has been surrounded in controversy before. A row blew up four years ago about passports for another wealthy Saudi Arabian based family, the Masris, when it was revealed that they invested _1 million in the Reynolds family pet-food business.

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